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Archive for the ‘essays’ Category

Copying Nature as da Vinci did was to watch birds fly. It inspired him to sketch out a flying machine. It was beautiful as far a drawing is judged, but impossible to get it up in the air. Biomimetics or imitating nature often ends up as impractical.

It took years to discover why da Vinci failed. From mimicking birds flying he did not get the function of wings. The bird’s wing performs two separate tasks, both of which are essential. By its shape, it provides lift when air passes over it. And by its movements it provides power. The pedal power as da Vinci seemed to suggest was impossible. The crucial step to making aircraft was to separate two functions, leaving the wing to do the lifting but transferring the power function to an engine and propeller, something no bird ever possessed. So the lesson is clear: You begin by imitating nature, as in the case of birds but get beyond the seemingly simple use of wings. In the latter case the principle is integrated in terms of engine and propeller.

What does being civilized means? Is it not man leave off being natural and learn to conduct himself in such a manner he is agreeable to others in public?

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The work of the German engineering Claus Mattheck Design in Nature: Learning from Trees is a classic on biomimetics. Mattheck’s lifelong love affair with trees has led to many important innovations in engineering design.

One of these considers the junction where the branch of a tree meets the trunk. Mattheck said the curvature around this junction was very cleverly designed to minimize the concentration of stress that occurs when engineers try to design the same shape. He developed a computer program to simulate tree growth, and the result was a fantastic reduction in stress concentration, allowing for more slender components. One may not be able to assume if trees had this in mind but it works in nature. Whereas when we need to minimize stress for example in the design of a car we need to think not like a tree but in terms of economy and practicality in human terms which are altogether different. We need to consider fuel efficiency, material cost,less CO2 emissions calculated obsolescence and so on. A tree is natural and can last for hundred years or so but if a car can run on for 100 years one may be sure consumer market would soon be dead and gone.

(ack: (The Conversation-‘Simply Copying Nature…/David Taylor of 10 June, 2014)

benny

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Progress as a result of human endeavour is in direct context of nature. Man versus nature. Man controlling and shaping his environment to his manifold conveniences consequently creates many chains of events that require other species sharing the same environment to respond adequately. Natural selection warrants these to adapt for the changing environment or go bust. Has not man also created a similar situation for his species? Such risks many of which are caused by humans. Bio-terrosim for instance. From pandemics to Nuclear wars, human civilization thus had to face many challenges which are existential risks, that are less understood than the most obvious advantages we have derived from the march of progress.

There are some worrying features in human intelligence that may fuel the risks of his very existence. From anthropological findings it would seem humans embarked on the march of progress too early. His branching off from his ape cousins was an event and it would indicate it was undertaken before his brain was full developed. Its consequence can easily be set down from analogy of human child. Our ape ancestor was like modern human, as a baby, with its brain developing all the while till it reaches some 20 years. (A pliable head of the baby facilitates its exit at birth from womb which is biologically safe for the mother.) This necessitates from the child all the support system without let up counted in days, years and decades till the end of his adolescence. He needs rearing from his parents in order to achieve emotional intelligence he needs. Only difference was that our ape ancestor had no such back up from his peers. His brain was in the process of developing but without nurture of some role model*.
Biologists speak of ‘norms of reaction,’ which are patterned responses to environmental circumstances. For example, some male insects are more likely to guard their mates when there are fewer females in the population, hence fewer other mating opportunities. Natural selection didn’t just shape a fixed behavior, it shaped the norm of reaction — the nature of the response,”
In humans a bad idea when he can think rationally on it brings many advantages. Increasing his supply of food at the cost of one who is weaker is one way of doing it. Annexing a territory from a weak tyrant is worth the while of a chieftain if he has a superior force. He reckons that his success would silence others and make his position more secure. It must have come handy when others would take the same path to aggrandize themselves. It is a norm of reaction that suited well for the bandit kings of yore.
When circumstances could be shaped to justify it war must have seemed a fitness-enhancing behavior. Warring parties included all those who agreed with the idea and circumstances. Like success it sets off many others.
‘Just as compassion for your offspring increases your genes’ chance of survival, violent tendencies may have been similarly useful for some species’ observed biologist David Carrier, also of the University of Utah,” Humans certainly rank among the most violent of species.” In true nature-nurture fashion, though some kind of genetic preprogramming for violence, may exist in humans as a result of our evolution. Norms of behaviour as a result evolved in that along period of trial and error method.
 
 
As a result how he created a society in terms of families, clans, tribes were all flawed. It became in most cases patriarchal leaving women in the background. Creating wars as a manly sport, would leave women incapable what with her long period of gestation and nursing. Eventually it would stamp the role of women as secondary. This we witness even this day where some societies can kill women simply for ‘honour.’ Lack of sufficient role model man simply created a swath of experience in which his brain simply was inadequate to anticipate long range consequences.
(*There is no accurate picture what made our human ancestor diverge from other apes other than fossil evidences that our human ancestors could walk as well as climb trees. The oldest evidence for walking on two legs comes from one of the earliest humans known, Sahelanthropus 6 million years ago. By 4 million years ago early human species lived mostly near open areas and dense woods. Their bodies had become adapted to walk upright most of the time, but still climb trees.

“Apparently, there were multiple ways early human species had of moving around.” observed human origins expert Richard Potts of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, about a mystery species discovered in Ethiopia’s Afar region in 2009, the fossil forefoot bones, eight in all, from same era and same region of Africa as the famous ‘Lucy’ (1974).

Walking was a human characteristic before the development of oversized brains. The newly discovered foot-fossil gives us a clue why early human species might have moved around. By learning to walk upright they conceded forests hitherto their home to cousins better adapted for living in trees.)

If his brain was inadequate what could have been the overwhelming reason for him to strike out on his own? His tool making skills gave us stone age, iron age, bronze age and so on. His curiosity and cleverness of hand would develop into science and technology. His foresight in overcoming an inconvenience was not matched by foreseeing the consequences of his innovations. No more apt example we need seek than reasons for ushering in the Nuclear Age. America could stop the WWII speedily. The Allies however did not anticipate proliferation of the nuclear arsenal but soon they were in for a rude shock. Now in some sixty years we have come at a stage the nuclear secrets can be peddled at the click of a mouse. It is what AQ Khan achieved with the backing of his government.

Optimism of man is in terms of abstract than concrete. His abstract thinking has created the world as idea but in terms of its realization no two persons shall view an idea exactly as one and as a result these can only end in conflict. Workers’ paradise as envisaged by Lenin in the view of Stalin was transformed into Cult of Personality!
Bad experience of the past is such that technology and its progress can only be sustained by the systems an idea created along the line. The Crusades in the middle Ages were fought under the call of a Pope. Pope Urban II in 1095 invoked the Christian army of Europe to reclaim lands lost to Muslim invaders previously. It was on the matter of Ideology of clashing belief-systems of the West and East he could invoke them to fight under the sign of cross. Ideas keep evolving while experience remains in the bloodstream of the species. The war to end all wars as President Wilson qualified the WWI did exactly the opposite. If idea of war had achieved its goal the first war that primordial man waged would have been sufficient.Instead collateral consequences of war, misery,loss of prestige,material advantages are all such in collective experience that necessitates conflict ad infintum. Idea of war, belief-systems can only be settled with experience of humans proving its justness for all. It is inherent in the idea and man’s inability to see any other way than as idea. There are millions of ants to every man and by sheer numbers insects outnumber human population. Despite of being one among so many species we see the world in terms of ideas than for what really it is.

Over the past century we have discovered or created new existential risks: supervolcanoes were discovered in the early 1970s, and we should expect others to appear just as a nuclear holocaust is possible. The average mammalian species survives for about a million years. Hence, the background natural extinction rate is roughly one in a million per year. This is much lower than the nuclear-war risk, which after 70 years is still the biggest threat to our continued existence. (ack:the five biggest threats to Human existence/the Conversation-Anders Sandberg,29 May, 2014)

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Physicists still have no proof that dark matter exists at all, but the evidence for it is substantial. The movements of stars and galaxies can apparently be explained only if there is much more gravitating matter in the universe than the visible stuff of atoms and molecules. Attempts to correct the discrepancy by rewriting the rules of gravity in Einstein’s general theory of relativity have repeatedly failed.

WMIPs (weakly interacting massive particles) and Theoretical particles called axions are other oft-mentioned candidates. Dark Matter must be the hand that rocks the cradle of Cosmos, the verb in the sentence I AM THAT I AM.

This reminds me of the lines:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy..’ (Hamlet Act I. Sc.v)

Shall we insert Science in place of the last word?

 

 benny

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There is a Standard Model by which we have nearly explained how the Universe works – all of the particles that make up atoms and molecules and all the matter we see, along with more exotic particles.We also have theorized supersymmetry by which matter must hold its anti-matter.

Most theories state that 13.8 billion years ago when the universe emerged, equal amounts of the two forms of matter should have existed. Since matter and antimatter, which has an opposite charge and spin, annihilate when they touch each other, the universe should be left with just photons and elementary particles. That isn’t the case.

So-called “charge-parity violation,” which suggests matter and antimatter behave differently from one another, may explain the lopsided outcome. Such slight differences we see all through our visible universe. The slight tilt of the earth gives us seasons and if it should lead to a oceanic conveyor belt where one half of the loop is warm while the other carries cold currents we may be sure the supersymmetry of matter is theoretically allowed but in practice gives positive aspect of matter a slight edge. Thus man made up of matter and given to rational thinking, who consciously stands for actions conducive to further life all around is aligned with truth. Be it truth of matter it still counts.

Truth of matter in utility and man as an idea saying yea to life must have a quality far beyond his or her material nature would strictly define. From its fundamental level truth is given a shape that cosmos cannot ignore nor check its fecundity. A little lump of leaven would change the whole meal. An act of kindness shall yet add color to the face of cosmos, and render it as benign face of heaven.

benny

 

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Nature’s gifts each life-form adapts in context to its environment. A tree being immobile or man who can flee or fight in case of danger shall create whole lot of adjustments that make world of each distinct. This potential to give is drawn from nature owing to something beyond its control in all aspects. Man who is given to abstract thinking might tag thus his context. God is for him defines a Being whose absolute control gives the inchoate external circumstances a one to one context.

By same token of rational thinking cannot another make God as a reality hidden in the very interplay forces that impinge on his world? Cannot God with his omnipresence hide in the interplay of events?

In Japan traditional houses are oriented and windows are placed in such manner to frame pleasant features of the landscape. The Japanese call it ‘borrowing scenery’ from Nature. In controlling Nature in a manner most advantageous to us are we not similarly working on an idea that is purely our own? Man may dominate other life forms and even quote convenient verse to justify his actions. Gen.1:28

benny

 

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‘Make hay while the sun shines’ so goes the old saw. For a plant it is just vital to photosynthesize while the sun is up.

A plant in terms of nature holds similarities with man in that it has adapted for its stationary position. Consequentially roots, leaves instead of fingers are required to multi-task.
Water is drawn from soil and sent along the trunk, by means of capillary action. A stream goes the crown and also goes down like human circulatory system. In this we need to consider the mysterious cases of trees bleeding, redness which has nothing to do with actual blood our vessels carry.
Thrift is a human character which in case of plants is sending the sap to its roots before winter sleep. Of course a plant has no bank account but before winter a plant will send unwanted sap to its roots. How easy it is to distinguish a man according to his wealth in the bling bling he can afford. Of course no man has excelled in the sheer exuberance and fulness of red gold livery each tree can put out to show it has taken care of its surplus.
As David Attenborough in his popular BBC program The Life of Plants says, “”To find water a plant has to position its roots with just as much precision as it arranges its leaves… If moisture is in very short supply, it may have to drive a tap root deep into the ground to reach the water table.” Some desert plants may develop root systems that are far deeper than they are tall and extend laterally. Even if the environment is well-watered, a plant may still need to compete…, so it positions a network of roots closer to soil surface so when rain falls they could have the first fill.”In its farsightedness not to miss the action when it comes reveal nature has compensated life forms adequately and survival depends not so much as the outcome of a decisive battle where casualties exceeds millions and many more wounded or maimed in actions. Whether such strategy of nano corrections steadily applied to maximize the gains from changes in environment is more effective than of man whose policies run a gamut of feigned friendliness, treaties and cultural exchanges between peoples with intent to destabilize one another and saber rattling and conflict? Man’s outlay in achieving efficiency is with an eye to his complex social life where profits at the cost of decimating one another must percolate from nation building to line the pockets of those who thrive in conflicts.
Plants are no different in their needs, but being immobile their defenses tend to take a different form than they do in animals.
Plant defenses are grouped into three broad categories: chemical, physical, and co-optive.
In chemical defense plants may produce toxins and with pungent aromas, for example, poison ivy.What is repellant to other animals and meant as chemical defenses we consume with great relish, many of our foods and spices.Physical defenses are the most obvious to us, especially when they come in the form of thorns and barbs. Plants may defend itself by co-opting animals for defense. Ants are probably the animal most often co-opted by plants. Like humans, plants can manipulate-,via bribes, misrepresentation orchids tricking bees into trying to mate with the flowers is an example.

<(Ack: writing for nature. wordpress.com/2013/12/03/plant-defenses-myriad-strategies)

benny

 

 

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While we study of human origins two main theories emerge to explain the archaeological and fossil record: one, known as the multi-regional hypothesis, suggested that a species of human ancestor dispersed throughout the globe, and modern humans evolved from this predecessor in several different locations. The other, out-of-Africa theory, held that modern humans evolved in Africa for many thousands of years before they spread throughout the rest of the world. DNA evidence suggests the original exodus involved anywhere from 1,000 to 50,000 people. 

The departure point, but most now appear to be leaning away from the Sinai, once the favored location, and toward a land bridge crossing what today is the Bab el Mandeb Strait separating Djibouti from the Arabian Peninsula at the southern end of the Red Sea. From there, the thinking goes, migrants could have followed a southern route eastward along the coast of the Indian Ocean. “It could have been almost accidental,” Christopher Henshilwood(an archaeologist at Norway’s University of Bergen) says, “a path of least resistance that did not require adaptations to different climates, topographies or diet. The migrants’ path never veered far from the sea, departed from warm weather or failed to provide familiar food, such as shellfish and tropical fruit.”

In the 1980s, new tools completely changed the kinds of questions that scientists could answer about the past. By analyzing DNA in living human populations, geneticists could trace lineages backward in time. These analyses have provided key support for the out-of-Africa theory. Homo sapiens, this new evidence has repeatedly shown, evolved in Africa, probably around 200,000 years ago. 

How did life rise and what influences went into peopling of the earth are beyond the scope of this essay. Here my intention is to draw some parallels in the nature’s way of ensuring safety in serving the earth already teeming with myriad forms of life. Nature in handling life seems to show all coincidences or chance must serve the whole so there is an element of certainty. The certainty underpins the truth of Natural selection as well as paraphrases  history of human species into Integration Principle. 

The evolution of the earth as a habitable planet gave rise to its atmosphere with its protective layer so harmful ultraviolet rays shall not enter. This broad division of earth into landmass, oceans and atmosphere carries differences in various ways in each and functions also are distinct from one another. Despite of such variations Integration principle builds the entire earth as one indivisible unit.

In order to understand its implications ask ourselves this question. If global warming were to make life on most parts of the earth impossible what shall we blame: North, South or the Third World countries?

Whatever happens on one part affects us all. Nature has spread various safeguards to minimize a single catastrophe annihilating entire life forms. 

 

Web of life is one such safety net for life forms to make their gains more durable. It also supports dissemination of  knowledge and ideas.

Of many skills technology in particular would make human migration tantamount to creating highways of knowledge. Discovery of fire by man some 500,000 years ago allowed man to migrate to colder regions during periods of drought and famine. Such changes in terms of climate have become less disastrous because man had acquired wherewithal owing to long periods of stability. Fire made cooking possible and also became more varied and sophisticated.

Advance in one direction creates man off-shoots: Those city-states in the Fertile Crescent, including the Babylonian and Assyrian empires relying on easy availability of food  have had leisure and the means to explore other avenues to fill in their time. Writing must have opened up a whole new horizon by which civilizations could leave valuable information for future generations. The many nodes of human civilizations set on various geographical locations work in tandem to spread around the good and evil inherent in the human achievements. There were indigenous peoples in the New World at the time the Pilgrim Fathers arrived, and were descendents of waves of migration going as far as 40,000 years ago. After the arrival of Europeans many millions died from epidemics of diseases such as smallpox imported to their shores. 

Volcanic eruptions and tsunami have wiped out civilizations and one such catastrophe might explain the fabled story of Atlantis.  In the modern era, geologic and archeological investigations hint at an intriguing possibility — that the demise of Atlantis may be related to a catastrophic Bronze Age eruption in the Aegean Sea, which destroyed an advanced Minoan civilization living on the island group of Santorini. Be that as it may we hear about the civilization of  Greece coming into focus following this event.  History of Europe as a result would never be the same. What is certain is that a sudden catastrophe brings an entire civilization down and the shockwaves of it impact some other culture on the rise to give a kickstart.

How  valid would be for native Americans to claim Americas exclusively considering they replaced peoples living before as they were subjugated by White settlers from Europe?

It is a truism that Nature does not put all her eggs in one basket. Muslims in the Palestine claiming the land as theirs have as much validity as the Jews. Now the state of Israel has its writ run in the territories held by it after the 1967 war. It is a certainty as long as it can keep it.

Nature showed its intent and if people cannot accept it for the peace and safety of all concerned, something has to give away. It may be unnatural in its resolution, something of a chance but certainty shall be yet another,- history of which is anyone’s guess.(ack:Guy Gugliotta-Smithsonian Magazine 2008)

benny

 

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